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John Goodspeed, 86; Wrote of Baltimore, Its People and Peculiarities of Their Speech

September 28, 2006|Jacques Kelly | Baltimore Sun

John Goodspeed, the former Baltimore Evening Sun columnist who collected examples of the city's linguistic train wrecks and christened the mispronunciations Baltimorese, died Sept. 10 of pulmonary fibrosis at his home in Easton, Md. He was 86.

From 1950 until he stepped down in 1967, Goodspeed chronicled the city, its habits and people in "Peep's Diary," a weekday column that appeared under a sketch of the Baltimore skyline.

In 1960, Goodspeed published the pamphlet "A Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese," which included among its 130 entries such classics as fahr/fire, arhn/iron, arnjoos/orange juice, authoritis/arthritis, Druidl/Druid Hill, Murlin/Maryland, paramour/power mower, tarred/tired, warn/wiring and the classic zinc/sink.

Born in Fort Worth, Goodspeed earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas Christian University in 1941, the year he moved to Baltimore to work as a tool-and-die inspector at an aircraft manufacturer.

"The landlady in the first place I lived said she had to 'wrench some dishes in the zinc,' " he said. "I had to figure that out. I'd never heard 'wrench' used for rinse or 'zinc' used for sink."

In 1948, Goodspeed parted ways with the aircraft plant, where he hated working, before getting hired at the Sun.

He took over "Peep's Diary" when Jacob Hay, the staffer who had been writing the column irregularly, was called back into the Army for the Korean War.

Goodspeed wrote "Peep's" five days a week for nearly 15 years, then three times a week for a year or so. His column took its name from the 17th-century London diarist Samuel Pepys, whose name is pronounced "Peeps."

Goodspeed collected Baltimorese snippets in his column for nearly a decade before he published the lexicon.

He became an expert on the city's linguistic idiosyncrasies. He said that proper pronunciation of Baltimore is "Balamer" -- "Bal as in Balmoral, not bawl as in a crying jag. The middle 'a' is very faint."

He said he based his own style "partly on the New Yorker, the way it used to be in the front, 'Talk of the Town,' and partly on Punch magazine," the British humor publication.

Goodspeed walked the streets of Baltimore to come up with such notes as this in 1960:

"In the 800 block of Park Avenue, a painter hung a sign that read, 'Wet Yet,' on a freshly painted stair grill and explained that the message is much more psychologically effective than 'Wet Paint,' which tempts people to test the paint with their fingers to see if it's dry yet."

Goodspeed left the Evening Sun in 1967 and went on to various editing and public relations jobs before retiring in 1985.

Survivors include his wife, the former Anne Stinson; a son, John D. Goodspeed of Annapolis, Md.; a daughter, Harriet Brooke Martin of Ridge Manor, Fla.; and a sister, Clara Louise Goodspeed of Denton, Md.

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Baltimorese

In an era not concerned with political correctness, John Goodspeed defined Baltimorese as having "the best tonal qualities of Southern cracker, New York Brooklynese and Pennsylvania Dutch singsong -- with elements of London Cockney usage and assorted other influences, including the Irish."

ahrsh -- Irish

chowld -- child

dayon -- down

harrid -- Howard

koor -- car

larnix -- larynx

nass -- nice

owen -- on

shares -- showers

urshter -- oyster

Source: "A Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese," Second Edition, 1966.

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